Defending Bristol from floods

Today’s blog comes from Councillor Nicola Beech, Cabinet Member for Strategic Planning and City Design.

Bristol and the River Avon are intrinsically linked. Some of our most iconic places are spread along the River Avon and it is a central part of life in the city.  

Having a river with the second highest tidal range in the world at the heart of the city does, however, present a challenge for the future. Flooding can result from the tide coming up the River Avon from the Severn Estuary if there is a tidal surge, and it can also flood after prolonged heavy rain, as Bristol sits at the bottom of the Avon’s 2,200km2 river catchment.

Climate change and rising sea levels are increasing this risk of flooding in the city centre and in neighbouring communities along the river. Today, around 1,100 homes and businesses in Bristol are at risk in a severe flood. Without action, up to 4,500 properties could be at risk by the end of the century.

While we cannot prevent floods from occurring altogether, we have been working with the Environment Agency on a long-term plan to address the risk of flooding from the River Avon. Our preferred approach to flood defences is to create new defences or raise the height of existing defences. This will be adaptive, meaning that we will build in a way that means defences are only as high as they need to be in the short term, but can be raised in the future to respond to a changing climate.

Our ambition is to go further than just building new flood defences. As cabinet member with responsibility for spatial planning and city design – and, more recently, flooding – I know the importance of making sure that the broad strategic needs of the city marry up with the more immediate, local concerns of Bristol’s citizens.

That is why we have worked hard to ensure that the critical need for a flood strategy is also used, wherever possible, as an opportunity to improve public spaces, create better access to the river, protect and enhance heritage features in the city, and give a boost to active travel by creating new walking and cycling routes along the river and into the city centre.

In short, we want to deliver a strategy that works for Bristol and Bristolians year-round, not just when the river floods.

An example of submergible paths

Examples from around the country and further afield show that it is possible to achieve both flood defence and better public spaces and active travel. Using methods like submergible paths, where defences are set back, with cycling and walking routes that can be enjoyed along the river when there is no flooding, but which are designed to flood, protecting infrastructure and homes. This technique has been used to great success at Bath Quays, where the need for flood defences has seen the transformation of the area into a landscaped public space.

If higher defences are needed, terracing can be used to reduce the apparent height of the defence and maintain views over the river. At the Southbank in London, this technique has created a popular area for people to walk and socialise.

This is what we aim to achieve from the Bristol Avon Flood Strategy so that we can future-proof Bristol and enable a greener, more active city.

Now we want to know what everyone who enjoys the River Avon and the areas around it, whether that is for work, travel or leisure, thinks about our proposals. The public consultation on the strategy runs until 20 December. I hope as many of you as possible will read more about our proposals and tell us what you think. Click the link below to take part.

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